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Hudson-Odoi answers challenge, repays faith with latest FA Cup star turn

A good performance, with all eyes on him

Chelsea FC v Nottingham Forrest - FA Cup Third Round Photo by Chris Lee - Chelsea FC/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

The flipping of the calendar from the year 2019 to the year 2020 is largely symbolic, but many assign great meaning to it. Callum Hudson-Odoi may or may not be one of those people, but his new year is off to a pretty great start regardless. A goal and an assist (let’s count it as an assist) propelled Chelsea to a comfortable if a bit perfunctory win over Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup third round on Sunday, putting an end to Chelsea’s two-game home losing streak in all competitions in the process.

Sure, Forest, like Chelsea, were playing mostly backups and fringe players, but a win’s a win and a good performance is a good performance. In the case of Hudson-Odoi, it was also the case of rising to the challenges set by the coaching staff, and the pressures and expectations of fans.

Head coach Frank Lampard was rightly pleased.

“It was a good performance: pleased to see him high up the pitch, pleased to see him being aggressive wanting to get at people, that’s what he is there for. He gets his goal, a great strike.”

-Frank Lampard; source: Chelsea FC

Ahead of the game, Chelsea assistant manager Jody Morris, who had coached Callum for several years in the Academy, called for patience with the 19-year-old, but also challenged the highly paid teenager to step up his game now that his Achilles injury is (or should be) behind him. (Although a brief injury scare during yesterday’s match after a Forest player stepped on his heel served as a stark reminder that confidence in that regard is still fairly fleeting.)

“Remembering his age, the fact he hasn’t played regular first team football, and the seriousness of his injury, you do need to take into account that you need to give the kid a bit of time.

“Can he do better? Yeah. He knows he can do better. He has been told he can do better, but at the same time he has been doing some really good stuff off the ball. There is a balancing act.

“[...] it’s about knuckling down and getting down to work. The signs he is giving off at the moment are that he wants to do that. He wants to work hard; he wants to improve. [...] He certainly hasn’t shown any signs of feeling the pressure of his new contract or expectation. He’s a confident boy. A couple of days ago he was asking me about clips he wanted to go through. I like that from him. When someone is trying to actively improve, you’ve got a chance.”

-Jody Morris; source: Chelsea FC

Those comments mirrored similar comments from Lampard after Hudson-Odoi’s previous start, a disappointing outing against Southampton.

Sunday was much better.

Of course, Hudson-Odoi started 2019 on a similarly fantastic note, in a similar setting, against the same opposition, even. His brace of assists, in last year’s 2-0 win over Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup third round, keyed his rise in importance to Sarri’s Chelsea. Now he needs to build on yesterday’s performance to follow a similar path.

“It’s been an interesting 12 months for him. When you consider how young he is, you have to take that into account. Last year everyone was talking about him for different reasons, he got a terrible injury, he came back very early. When he did come back there will still issues getting him absolutely tip-top. Then he’s in the spotlight because of his new contract and who he is.

“It was nice step forward for him today. The next challenge will be the next time he plays. Can he do that, can he do more? Can he keep sustaining that improvement?”

-Frank Lampard; source: Chelsea FC

All eyes were on Callum, and he delivered. Here’s to more of that, more goals, more assists, more butts rising out of seats, more sharp intakes of breath in the future as well.